The Breast Cancer Resource Center of Santa Barbara welcomes Karen Jorgensen as Programs Coordinator and Cancer Navigator. Karen comes to the BCRC with an impressive background: Bachelors of Science in Nursing, Registered Nurse, Breast Oncology Nurse, Certified Patient Navigator, and women’s health advocate.
We recently presented Karen with a few questions that she kindly and thoughtfully answered to help our larger BCRC family get to know her. Thank you to Karen for sharing a little bit about yourself and your journey to the BCRC!
Please join us in welcoming Karen!
Can you share about your personal and professional path that led to your work with Breast Cancer Patients?
“Like so many things in my life, the opportunity just kind of presented itself…I had been working in healthcare as an educator and advocate for almost 10 years before obtaining my BSN and becoming a registered nurse, and initially my focus was women’s health (OBGYN). In 2010, a former colleague of mine in Boston took a position at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center where they needed a Breast Oncology Nurse Coordinator and she asked me if I’d be interested in joining the practice. Although I had no previous professional oncology experience, I had multiple relatives who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and I knew I wanted to learn as much about it as I could, so I took the leap and immediately knew I had made the right decision. Cancer “navigators” were still a relatively new concept at the time (the American Cancer Society launched their first Patient Navigator Program in 2005), but in my role as the Nurse Coordinator, I was really operating as a navigator, which I like to equate as equal parts translator, GPS, and coach. For someone who is newly diagnosed, being able to make informed decisions relies heavily on understanding the medical terminology, and as a translator I help patients understand this new language. A cancer diagnosis also comes with an often-overwhelming schedule of appointments, tests, and tasks to complete; I can be the “GPS” who helps you navigate the complex healthcare system. As a coach, my goal is to help patients/clients feel fully supported in their cancer journey.”
What are some of your goals as the new Programs Manager and Cancer Navigator for the BCRC?
“Most importantly, I want our clients to feel supported and cared for whenever they reach out to us – whether it’s by phone or in person, whether they need someone to talk to, or just a quiet place to come and sit and know they are not alone. I want to be a familiar face that is here to provide education and answer questions, ease anxiety, and remove barriers that might impede care. As Programs Coordinator, I hope to contribute meaningful content to the various educational and supportive services we offer to clients and look forward to hearing from clients and local healthcare providers about new programs or offerings they’d find useful. My hope is to continue to make connections with healthcare providers in the community to help them recognize that the BCRC can serve as a vital part of the care team.”
How has working with cancer patients influenced/impacted your personal outlook and life?
“I would say that it’s made me more appreciative of life and has taught me how to find joy in the simple things. That may sound cliché, but it really is true – cancer is the great equalizer in that it can affect any one of us, whether we are young, old, rich, poor – it doesn’t discriminate. I’ve worked with patients from all walks of life, and the experience has really helped me accept the fact that there are just some things in life that despite our best efforts are not within our control. This was an important lesson for me because I used to believe just the opposite and was always incredibly hard on myself for everything. I eventually realized that my behavior stemmed from a sort of magical thinking that I could protect myself from harm if I did everything perfectly, which of course is not a healthy nor realistic expectation of oneself. I’ve always been a compassionate person and have no trouble being patient and kind with others but working in oncology has given me the gift of learning how to finally be compassionate towards myself as well, which I am incredibly grateful for! My patients have taught me that there truly is value in being kind, and of being able to sit quietly with someone who is hurting and just allow them to “be” without trying to “fix” everything. A quote that comes to mind is one by Og Mandino that says, “Extend to each person, no matter how trivial the contact, all the care and kindness and understanding and love that you can muster and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.” This is how working with cancer patients has changed my life for the better.”
What are some of your favorite things about living in Santa Barbara?
“What’s not to love about living here? I grew up in upstate New York, then lived for many years in Chicago (where I went to nursing school), and then eventually landed in Boston before finally making my way to Santa Barbara. What do the first three places have in common? Snow and freezing temperatures! After one-too-many times of having to dig my car out of a snowbank in the dark with minus-20-degree windchills, I made it my mission to move someplace where the air didn’t hurt my face. Thankfully, the stars aligned in my favor, I was recruited for a job here in 2013, and have been pinching myself in disbelief and gratitude ever since. Besides the obvious answers like weather and climate, I love that Santa Barbara has so much to offer in terms of art, music, nature, cuisine, and culture even though it is still a relatively small town. Whenever someone visits us and we get to see Santa Barbara through new eyes, we are reminded of just how blessed we are to be here. You don’t need to be here long to feel like a local if you truly care about being here – and through my work as a healthcare provider as well as at my husband’s business, I’ve made some wonderful friendships over the years and feel deeply connected to the community.”
Is there a book or podcast that you are currently enjoying?
“Yes, and they are both related to one another! I’m so glad you didn’t ask me what my “favorite” book was because I can never narrow it down to just one, but a recent book that had a profound impact on me was “The Choice: Embrace the Possible,” a memoir by clinical psychologist and Holocaust survivor Dr. Edith Eger, who endured unspeakable suffering at a young age in Auschwitz. Despite her early experiences, her story is really one of inspiration and hope rather than sorrow; a journey through darkness into a place of light and strength that illustrates the tremendous power we all have inside ourselves to change how we respond to trauma by changing our thoughts. She notes that “Suffering is universal; victimhood is optional,” but also cautions readers not to discount their own pain or compare themselves to others as they work through their trauma experience, as “there is no hierarchy when it comes to suffering.”
I first discovered Dr. Eger’s work through one of my favorite podcasts: Brené Brown’s “Unlocking Us” where Brené and Dr. Eger took a deeper dive into the book to explore “the power of choosing how we see ourselves and how we resist the labels that people put on us,” and encourages listeners to change the thoughts and behaviors that may be keeping them imprisoned in the past. I loved this podcast episode so much that I listened to it twice, and then immediately bought Dr. Eger’s book (which I then feverishly filled with highlights and margin notes!) – they’re both that good.”